by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
When it comes to decorating a Nantucket home, many newcomers to the island seek out the advice of professionals. In this regard, there are a handful of creative people who have successfully grown island businesses and become known for their good taste in home décor. Liz Winship is one of those people.
“When I was a little girl, I shared a big, third-floor bedroom with my sister. We were always rearranging that room, moving things around to make it look better,” she said.
As a college student, Winship came to Nantucket and got a job at Nantucket Looms, then located in what is now the Ralph Lauren building on Main Street. What started as a summer job turned into a year-round career. Over the next 18 years Winship would get to know all aspects of the business under the tutelage of two men, Andy Oates, a weaver; and his business partner, William Euler who, along with the Nantucket Historical Trust, founded the Looms.
“They were always guiding me,” Winship said. “Over the years we became as close as family.”
By the time the owners retired in 1993, leaving the business to Winship, she was more than up to the challenge of building on their success.
“When I was first hired, I was terrified. I knew nothing about retail. But I gained confidence dealing with the customers and arranging the merchandise. It was fun and I had a knack for it,” Winship said.
During her 22-year ownership, Winship and her team have been responsible for decorating dozens of homes on the island.
“Bill and Andy were such good mentors,” she said. “They taught me to appreciate good design. I instinctively know when a room is right and when it isn’t working. Nantucket is a special place and Bill and Andy practically invented that elegantly-simple Nantucket cottage style that represents summer living at its best.”
Even if your home is modern, Winship said you can introduce those cottage-style elements: pastel or white interiors with plain wooden or painted floors, weathered furniture, local artwork, handmade textiles in muted earth tones, timeless fabrics in blue and white stripes or checks, solid fabrics in seaside blue or faded green, quilted bedcovers and braided rugs à la famed White House decorator Sister Parish. Art objects such as pottery, baskets, a pitcher of wildflowers and “nothing that takes a lot of maintenance or looks contrived,” are also important.
“Timeless and classic will never go out of fashion,” Winship said. Words to live by.
Last year, after more than 40 years at the Looms, Winship officially retired, handing over the reins to her daughter Bess Clarke, Stephanie Hall and Rebecca Peraner. While
she remains on the board of directors of the Looms, she is no longer involved in the dayto-day operation of the store.
“I have complete confidence in their ability to carry on in the Nantucket Looms tradition and to grow the business,” she said.
Rather than decorate other people’s houses, Winship now has time to spend on her own home.
“I bought paintings from the early artists who first sold to the Looms. Since woven fabric was what we were about, I used that fabric to upholster my sofa and chairs,” she said.
“Rebecca Peraner, our master weaver and Andy’s apprentice, wove fabric back in the 1990s that would make Ralph Lauren weep.
“I like an eclectic mix of collections. There are so many talented people on the island and because Nantucket attracts people who appreciate good-quality artwork, the really good artists have flourished,” Winship continued.
“My house is very personal. While it isn’t typical of an early island home, it has the simple qualities associated with the island, but with modern amenities, like in the bathrooms and kitchen.”
When Winship and her husband Todd, a builder, first saw the property on the south shore of the island, Todd began to visualize a one-story, simple structure that would fit into the landscape. With the help of island architect Mark Poor, he built an unpretentious house designed with restraint to reflect the rhythm of the island.
It’s a U-shaped plan made up of three bedrooms and two baths on one side, an entryway, living and dining rooms in the front of the U, with the kitchen and den on the other side. All the rooms open onto a mahogany deck in the center of the U. Beyond is a pool.
The landscaping is understated with grassy plantings indigenous to the area.
“It’s worth taking the time to create a landscape that is low-maintenance and doesn’t look planned. This is what a Nantucket garden in this area looks like. It’s not the type of house that screams out for hydrangeas,” Winship said.
As has always been a trademark of the Looms, natural materials and neutral colors are the predominant
theme throughout the house. Wherever you look there are handcrafted items on display.
“I like to arrange objects that work together. I love that part of design, looking around a room and getting that feeling of, ‘Yes, this could work. Let’s try it’,” Winship said.
Her approach to decorating is simple and straightforward.
“I learned this from my years of arranging objects to be attractive to our customers,” she said.
“When you spend your day arranging and rearranging as things are sold, you begin to know what looks good and what doesn’t work. It’s an ongoing process that anyone can do with a little practice. What worked in the store also works at home.”
This house very much reflects Liz and Todd’s respect for good design and quality craftsmanship.
“The interior design is the culmination of years of being in the company of Nantucket’s early masters of craftsmanship and architects of style. However, everything of interest doesn’t have to cost a bundle. I just bought two little plastic mice for the table from CVS in Key West. I thought they were cute. I’ll throw them away when I’m tired of them, ” Winship said.
Winship has a sense of humor that often sneaks into her décor.
“Decorating doesn’t have to be too serious,” she said. “Something whimsical is always fun.”
Each room in the house is treated like a gallery to showcase the arts and crafts of local artists. Begin with the entryway. Take advantage of this first impression and create a scene.
In the Winship home, a Phil Raneri desk holds a display of handcrafts with colorful hooked rugs, both old and new.
Subtle colors in the living room are punctuated with color from the fabric on two upholstered chairs. The space is comfortably furnished with a sectional sofa.
“A sectional really defines the room and provides adequate seating,” Winship pointed out.
Hand-woven mohair and silk throws, a trademark of Nantucket Looms, soften chairs and sofas. For floor coverings, she favors polypropylene carpets. “They’re terrific. They’re durable and look as good as a sisal, but are more practical. Even my three grandchildren can’t do damage here,” Winship said. In the living room, a glass coffee table holding a grouping of pottery, an old jug from the Take It Or Leave It at the town landfill, and a small, wooden antique chair once used by an African tribal chief is an example of how mixing old, new and found objects give a room character. Items with history add value
to a display.
The dining room is furnished with a serving board, once a 19th century Chinese writing desk, purchased at the annual Nantucket Antiques Show. A French wrought-iron candle chandelier hangs over the McQuire table and chairs. Throughout the house, shapes, textures and a mix of media are used in the furnishings, creating a seamless gallery from room to room.
The kitchen is the heart of the house.
“I love to cook,” said Winship, who designed the kitchen with Todd to be large and bright and easy for everyone to be together.
“Bess and her family live next door in a house they renovated on the property, so her three boys and the dogs are always underfoot.”
Like most creative people, Liz and Todd are always improving their spaces. A house that is lived in and enjoyed fully is never quite finished.
“I change things all the time,” she said. “But when you’re working with good things to begin with, moving them around is part of the fun of owning a house and making it personal. A house where nothing changes loses its energy.”
Winship may be retired but has kept busy, having just finished an exciting decorating project in Key West where she and Todd live in the off-season.
“Now that it’s almost done I have time for volunteer work. I’m on the board of directors of the Hospital Thrift Shop, and I’m still on the Looms board of directors so I’m not totally out of the picture. However, when a small business grows larger, its success really depends on teamwork. I am completely confident that Bill and Andy’s original vision of Nantucket Looms, and ultimately my influence on the business, are being handled so competently by the third generation,” she said. ///
Leslie Linsley is a nationally-known author of design and decorating books. She writes regularly for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s weekly newspaper, and Nantucket Today.